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Forging the god of fire

As visitors enter Caterpillar Inc.’s Mapleton Foundry, they walk past an enormous sculpture of Vulcan—the Roman god of fire—pouring molten metal. Caterpillar asked Fisher Stolz, associate professor of art, to design this piece as a tribute to the plant’s employees—past, current, and future—and to recognize the work that takes place here.

“The idea,” Stolz says, “was that I would design a sculpture that incorporated iron casting, and the work would be done in the foundry. By helping to create it, the employees would feel greater ownership of the work. All involved would also learn from the experience.”

An enormous sculpture of Vulcan—the Roman god of fire—pouring molten metal greets visitors entering Caterpillar Inc.’s Mapleton Foundry. Fisher Stolz, associate professor of art, designed this piece as a tribute to the plant’s employees—past, current, and future.

His relationship with Caterpillar goes back to 1994, when he began teaching sculpture at Bradley and became involved with the American Foundry Society and the Bradley student chapter that they sponsor. Many Caterpillar employees are members of AFS.

In 2001, when Stolz was creating a large-scale, outdoor sculpture for an upcoming exhibition, his original plans for casting part of it in iron fell through. “Caterpillar agreed to let me work with some foundry workers on their research line to cast the piece. That was my first experience working inside the Mapleton Foundry. I enjoyed the experience and believe they must have too, as I think this made them consider me to do a sculpture for their foundry.”

He met with project director Baltasar Weiss and two other foundry employees, Bill Sullins and John Grabel, in 2005 to discuss ideas for the sculpture. Stolz soon created a one-twelfth-scale maquette of how the piece would look on site, and the idea to create a larger-than-life figure of Vulcan was accepted.

He had planned to make a full-scale clay sculpture and then take molds from that for casting. With the specialized equipment available at Caterpillar, however, they suggested digitally scanning the model. The digital file was enlarged to full scale, and they then cut a model out of Styrofoam using a milling machine that can read a digital file and cut a model out of almost any material. By enlarging the model 12 times, they lost a lot of detail, so the Styrofoam model required significant reworking before it could be used to create a mold for casting. Once work began on the full-scale sculpture, it took about 16 months to complete, with Stolz working daily at the foundry during the summer of 2006.

After the casting was done and the pieces pinned and welded together, a crane carried the huge figure down the entry road. “Walking down the road to the site, with the figure hanging from the crane, was memorable,” Stolz said. “As we did the finish work on site and everything came together, there were feelings of pride, humility, appreciation, and relief.”

To keep in scale with the sprawling foundry, which sits between the Illinois River and Highway 24 outside of Mapleton, Stolz’s depiction of Vulcan had to be quite large. The finished casting of the figure weighs close to 7,000 pounds and the overall sculpture spans 30 feet across.

Although many of Stolz’s recent sculptures are more abstract than the Vulcan piece, he enjoyed the opportunity to work in a more representational style, which he felt was appropriate for this location. He also integrated techniques that reflect his other works. “The design uses geometry based on the space to give it a comfortable fit. Vulcan emerges from a section of arcs depicting the latitude and longitude lines that relate to the global aspects of Caterpillar’s business. The curved limestone elements and the arced tubing are forms that tie this sculpture to some of my others,” he says.

Forging the god of fireCell-based cancer treatmentThe power of podcasting • Safe zonesMusic from the heartCross-cultural accountingCaterpillar scholarsLearning to grieveGrant activity